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25th March 2022

Mothers of all kinds

With Mother’s Day nearly upon us, Audre Lorde’s essay discussing her experience of lesbian parenthood from her collection ‘Sister Outsider’ is the perfect text to reflect on non-conventional parent dynamics
Mothers of all kinds
Photo: Jacob Folkard @ The Mancunion

Audre Lorde opens her essay (one of many in her incredible book, Sister Outsider) ‘Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist’s Response’ with a disclaimer that her article is ‘not a theoretical discussion of Lesbian Mothers and their Sons, nor a how-to article’, a point I would very much like to repeat as a disclaimer for this article.

This is an article that will reflect upon Lorde’s essay, both bringing an incredible writer (I highly recommend the rest of her body of work) to the fore, as well as a personal angle to it. As the son of a Lesbian couple, and someone who was brought up in a household led by two women, Lorde’s essay spotlighted some very interesting, enlightening, and pertinent points, especially with Mother’s Day just around the corner.

Lorde, straight off the bat, touches on something that is not only suitable in this essay but has recently become a growing subject of discussion; the definition of masculinity. She states ‘sons of lesbians have to make their own definitions of self as men. This is both a power and a vulnerability.’ And certainly, whilst we are in a time when it is growing more and more common for masculinity to be far more fluid in its definition, we are by no means out of the ‘don’t cry – work hard – play rough’ area of the woods.

But as Lorde goes on to say, ‘what does ‘acting like a man’ mean?’. One of the phrases that I hate most, and have grown more and more to hate as I grow older, is ‘man up’ or ‘be a man’ because for me, and many others out there in similar situations, it holds no meaning. To use another Lorde phrase, for me, at home, ‘power was clearly female’. To ‘man up’, whatever its colloquial meaning has come to signify, holds no true meaning for me. Whilst I understand what it is meant to mean, it holds no relevance; the leading figures in my life are female and so how should I act when told to ‘man up’? What does that look like?

And whilst I could go on about various similar bits and bobs, turns of language, stereotypes, and so on for several more pages, to round off I want to turn to one of the most impactful passages of literature I have ever read.

In asking her son what he thinks both the strongest positive and negative aspects of having grown up with lesbian parents is, Lorde writes that he replies the strongest positive ‘was that he felt he had gained was that he knew a lot more about people than most other kids his age that he knew, and that he did not have a lot of the hang-ups that some other boys did about men and women. The strongest negative he identifies, she writes, is ‘the ridicule he got from some kids with straight parents’. The following exchange are the two most powerful lines: 

‘“You mean, from your peers?” I said.

“Oh no,” he answered promptly. “My peers know better. I mean other kids.”’

This was not meant to be a piece of incredible social justice, or an article to incite debate on the nature of single-sex families. It is merely a little thought piece – an article to promote an incredible writer. Around Mother’s Day, we should all celebrate the incredible work that our Mothers do for us, who are often under-recognised and under-credited, to think about all the different Mothers out there, all the different families, and how we, as people, treat those with experiences different to ours.

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